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An evolutionary dead end

Times Staff Writer

Well, the good news is we probably won’t be subjected to a television show about the Verizon can-you-hear-me-now guy any time soon. Any fears that commercial-inspired comedies are the wave the future were put to rest by the dismal premiere of ABC’s Geico Insurance spokesman-inspired “Cavemen” Tuesday night.

The network wisely chose not to make the premiere episode of “Cavemen” available to critics before its airdate -- in the hope, I suppose, that people might tune in for the sheer curiosity value. Certainly the show has received a fair amount of buzz since a preliminary pilot was floated, although not the desired buzz of an excited anticipatory audience. More like the bristling buzz of an angry crowd heading over to Osh to see if the pitchforks and/or flaming brands were on sale.

Over the last few months, many called the show racist -- heaven knows why unless it was because the cavemen in question referred to themselves as “maggers,” had reputations for their athletic and sexual prowess and were surrounded by white people with bad Southern accents who kept mistaking the cave-characters for the help.

Creators Josh Gordon and Will Speck (“Blades of Glory”) and Joe Lawson attempted at first to defend the show as a parody of all stereotypes but in the end, steps were taken, tweaks were made. Tweaks! The setting was moved from Atlanta to San Diego (well known for it’s “magger tolerance”) and the word “magger” was excised -- as were all references to any assumptions about cavemen, the habits of cavemen, the history of cavemen or pretty much anything interesting at all.

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Left in a symbolically bland apartment were Joel (Bill English), his brother Andy (Sam Huntington) and their roommate Nick (Nick Kroll), three reg’lar guys who just happened to be rather hirsute and have protruding foreheads.

In other words, a show that is no longer offensively not funny, just pointless and not funny.

They have moved to San Diego so Andy can get over his ex-girlfriend, whom he stalks via cellphone throughout the first episode, demanding closure despite the fact that she has already moved on to another guy. Nick makes vague references to his dissertation but is more interested in conning Andy into buying a Wii game system and, mystifyingly enough, down vests.

Meanwhile, Joel, who, like so many comedic male characters these days, works in a warehouse-sized emporium that requires its employees to wear silly shirts, has a Big Secret -- he’s dating a Homo sapiens. And when the boys find out, they do not approve. “Keep the penis in the genus,” is, I believe, Nick’s exact response, which is as close as the show gets to anything resembling parody, social commentary or humor, albeit of a stultifying sophomoric variety.

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None of which should be taken as a request that “Cavemen” return to its unsettling origins, with the mint juleps and the lynch mob references. But if you’re going to force us to look at guys made up to look like cavemen, then let them be cavemen, for goodness’ sake. And if you don’t know what that means, then put on your thinking caps and make something up. It’s too late to have them be, um, bionic or nerdy mathematical savants, but surely there are certain characteristics, beyond all the hair, that could make them resonant and endearing, in the way, for example, that love of ziti and strippers gave a texture to the characters of “The Sopranos.” It isn’t enough to have them love Sudoku and hate “The Flintstones” -- those kind of jokes, as well as the sight of a cave weatherman, or cave squash players, were old by the second take.

The idea of using cavemen to parody all the ridiculous prejudices that dog virtually every “group” in America is not a bad one. But such a show requires both delicacy and a fearless backswing -- why shouldn’t the cavemen be considered cheap or humorless or great decorators or social-climbing or terrorists or pushy while waiting in line at Starbucks? But if they are, as the show’s intro says, “just like us,” then what’s the point? Don’t bother me with cavemen; they’re just big, hairy and boring. I’d rather see a show about insurance salesmen.

mary.mcnamara@latimes.com

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‘Cavemen’

Where: ABC

When: 8 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesdays

Rating: TV-PG (may be inappropriate for young children)

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